Friday, February 27, 2015

It would be a poor sort of geek indeed...

... who failed to mention Leonard Nimoy's passing on his blog, even though you've probably heard the news hours ago.  Here's a link to an article at the BBC. Consider the occasion mentioned.

I'm going to go bounce EM waves off the ionosphere now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

When Hobbies Collide

Two years ago I rode in the Tour of Southern Rural Vistas (TOSRV), a two-day bike tour from somewhere just north of Tallahassee FL to Albany Ga.  Had a great time, you can read all about it here in a previous blog post.  One of the cool things about the whole production was that a local ham radio club, the Tallahassee Amateur Radio Society (TARS), provided support communications all along the route.  In these days of cell phones, perhaps this is not as completely crucial as it used to be, but there are still many backwoods spots with little-to-no cell coverage and besides, but it's not about doing things the easiest way, it's about doing things the fun way.  It's a good excuse for these hams to get out in the fresh air and use their portable VHF/UHF capabilities.  After all, if the sole objective was to simply get from Tallahassee to Albany with the least amount of trouble, why bother with a bicycle when I've got a perfectly good car?

OK, so I kept looking at these hams having a good time in the sun at every rest stop, and I couldn't help but thinking that, while I was having fun on the bike, I could be having fun on the radio at the same time.  With this in mind, I started gearing up to do both in at TOSRV-14 when *screech* the event was canceled.  Damn.  Well, I was busy with The Shop in the same time frame anyway.  So the project was sidelined until this winter.  Finally wrapped things up this weekend, as you can see:

Here's a close-up.  
Saddlebag, as well as any other gear can still be attached to the rack.  Perfect for touring.

The radio's just sitting on the rack, you don't actually ride with it like that.  Sooner or later I'll have to rig something where it can clip on the handlebars (there's more than enough coax to reach) but for last Saturday's test I just stuffed it in a jersey pocket for the ride to the Bay Bridge.
The view from the top is spectacular, either in the visible or VHF spectrum.

The 85' crest gives a 13 mile radio line-of-sight radio horizon, making it easy to hit both the Biloxi and Slidell repeaters, each 25 miles away, which have antennas at 300' and 1000' respectively.  On a mere 5 Watts, I easily made contacts through each repeater and received fine signal reports.

Construction Notes
This is pretty easy.  I started with WX2NJ's Jurassic Duck 2 meter VHF antenna design.  It's essentially a J-pole stuffed up a piece of CPVC pipe.  The big innovation was that all of the lengths were adjusted for the change in c due to the CPVC's properties.  To add a few notes: 
(1) Cut the radiator wire about 12" longer than specified in the plans, then trim to adjust the SWR.  I cut and hoped, but ended up soldering on an additional 8" of wire to get things right.  
(2) Get a rack with pannier side struts.  This makes it easy to zip-tie things on, far easier than that the weird shower fixture in the original plans.  Stronger too.
(3) Leave the PVC pipe a bit long, so that the matching stub inside it is positioned well above the rack.  Otherwise the stub can interact with the rack's metal, leading to unknown but probably bad performance.  Extra antenna height is always a good thing anyway.
(4) 300 Ohm twin-lead is a pain to work with, but about the only material that's right for the job.  Get the real twin-lead type, not the encased jacket type, which is nearly impossible to work with.  Take your time, be ready for several tries.  Trim out the solder points for the coax on the stub before you cut the whole thing to length off of the roll of twin-lead.  That way, you can whack off unsuccessful tries as they happen and only lose a few inches of twin-lead each time.
(5) Punch a little hole through the twin-lead near the top and hang it inside the pipe with a short length of string.  That'll keep it from sliding down and bunching up.
(6) You can leave the bottom end open, but a quick wrap of electrical tape will finish it nicely and discourage bugs from crawling up in the thing.

Well, as I mentioned earlier, it works and works well.  In fact, I've made a second on to go on a backpack as a hiking antenna.  Back to bikes, TOSRV may be gone but there'll be other ham-supported bike events in the future.  In the meantime, it's always good to have around for hurricane season, and good for occasional fun during less-serious times.  Finally, to allay the fears of fellow cyclists who are not so technically inclined:
it detaches and re-attaches as needed in less than a minute.

One more note: Thanks to Jeff KK4SNA for pointing out the original Jurassic Duck antenna plans on the web, and to Gary N5AHM for help analyzing and sorting out this antenna's fine tuning.

ps: adding "CX" to this post to make it show up better in searches.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tips for 80 meters

I've had this 40/80 meter trap dipole for a couple of years:
Shown coiled-up for shipping.  In use those four loops are uncoiled and straightened out.

Works great, especially on 40 meters, with an SWR < 1.5 across the entire band.  The big advantage is that it can also work on part of the 80 meter band while remaining yard-sized.  A full-on 80m antenna is about 135 feet long, but by using some LC resonant voudou (that would be those funky PVC-core coils in the above picture) this thing is a good 50 feet shorter.  Back to the qualifying phrase "can also work on a part of the band," the downside to this contraption is that it only works on about a fifth of the 80m band, maybe a third of the band when persuaded by my transceiver's little 3:1 tuner.  The sensible thing to do in this case is to set it and forget it in the sub-band you mostly want to work, which I've done up in the General-class phone end of things, 3.8-4.0 MHz.  That's where the action is.

But I occasionally want to use PSK31 on 80m too, and that's centered down on 3.580 MHz.  I could go through an hours' exercise in adjusting the outer ends each time I want to change sub-bands, or just:

clip on an extra length of wire to each end of the dipole to lower the resonant frequency.  In practice, it came out to about 12" for these tip wires, but if you're tuning from scratch start with about 20" and trim it down a couple of inches at a time.  The black clip on the left attaches to the end of the antenna; the red clip on the right holds things stretched out with paracord and a little ceramic insulator.  Once everything's tuned up, it takes about 2 minutes to step into the back yard and attach/detach the tips to switch sub-bands.  It even pulls in the bottom-end of the Extra-class phone band, a nice bonus.

It took an hour or so to trim everything just right, but it's worth it to get PSK31 coverage on 80m.  Because PSK31:

It's kind of like The Matrix, only much, much nerdier.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Back in the Saddle Again

Man it was great, 18 sloooow miles today.  But they were miles!  And now I can breathe!  Still, probably didn't have as much fun as these guys:
Ah hell, is being all stupid and won't let me insert the video.  Here's the link, do the clicky yourself and embiggen.  The musical mash-up is almost as good as the biking.

Anyway, it's good to be back on two wheels, even if it is on the road.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Good news on the collarbone.

In a nutshell, it's healing, I can do everything now except for contact sports, and those will have to wait about another month.  Road biking, workouts, everything else, check.  Mountain biking... better give it a month.  Man oh man, can't wait to hit the – no re-phrase that – ride the seawall this weekend.

Here's a happy video of people riding their CX bikes somewhere up north of I-10.  Blow it up to full screen size and crank up the volume, the music is impressive.
Yeah, that's about how good I feel!  Without all the snow, of course.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A History of Chillin' Out

Over at the BBC.  Yes, they do mention home-town inventor John Gorrie.

Mardi Gras Recap

Over at the New Orleans Advocate.  Safe enough for work, but you may need to turn your adblockers off for a few minutes.  It's worth it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kelly Johnson, Lockheed, and Success

A short article about Johnson, his background, and his management principles that launched Lockheed's Skunk Works is over at Alert 5.  *hint*hint*

Because if you want results like this:

you can't go around managing like this:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Five Years Down

I've been blogging for five years today?  That's something like 4+i12 in internet years.

Here, have a musical interlude.  (Yes, I am old enough to still own this on vinyl.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Machine Soul, Take 2

I've posted about this article before, but Dirt Rag has a way of re-arranging their site every couple of years and now that link's broken.  However, they've recently re-done things as one of their Blast from the Past features.  Go read it over there, but on the off chance it disappears again, here's the whole damn thing.  It's too good to be lost in a miasma of broken links.

Editor’s note: Machine Soul first appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #21, published in February 1992. Words by John Gurklis. Dirt Rag #21 cover art by Mark Tierney.

This is defined as the ethereal component of the machine, in this context a bike. Machine soul is acquired as the rider’s mental energy becomes infused into the frame members of the bike. It is for this reason that many transportation devices such as ships, trains and planes obtain names. Although most people do not name their bike, if enough time is spent on it, the bike becomes an extension of their selves with the purpose of riding the person over the earth. Components other than the frame usually do not contain this machine soul as they can be replaced and the bike remains the same. It is only the frame, the heart of the bike, that the machine soul can reside in, usually in between the electron clouds that surround the lattice of atoms in a metal bike and in the resin of carbon fiber frames.
Machine soul can be felt when one gets a good feel from riding, and it can urge one to pull wheelies, bunny hop, jump curbs or ruts and ride hard. Machine soul is what allows the rider to get used to the bike and can effect a kind of loyalty. When one rides another’s bike the machine soul detests this and causes the borrowing rider to crash which makes the owner upset. Machine soul has punished the owner for his or her infidelity.
Machine soul only leaves the bike when the frame is destroyed or cracked to the point of being unrideable. The soul leaks out at the crack and floats up into the air to machine heaven, unless it is re-welded or bonded to patch the leak. Without its soul the dead bike becomes a hunk of metal like stair railing or lawn chair frames.
With this analysis of bike machine soul it is now clear as to why bikes have personality and why they are special.

Final note: If you're not subscribing to Dirt Rag and/or their sister publication Bicycle Times already, why the hell not?  <subscription page link>  At $19.99 and $16.99 respectively – cheap! – if you ride bikes at all, you really ought to.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Interesting Rockumentary

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Dunno what to say, but I'll see it just as soon as I can!

Wiki linkage for those in need: Big Star, Alex Chilton (has it been five years already?), The Box Tops

Sunday, February 8, 2015

This is where RadioShack managers seem to have gone.

Architecture Continues to Implode over at Forbes.

Wow, this is just jaw-droppingly bad stuff.  Exhibit A:
Design for post-Katrina rebuilding in New Orleans: FAIL

Really?  Designing houses to continuously remind people of what is likely the single most awful incident in their entire lives?  This is like designing VA hospitals to mimic war zone sights and sounds.  What kind of idiots ever would think this is a good idea?

Oh, and they cost ~4X what more livable houses cost.

Go read through that article at Forbes.  Click through on many of the numerous links.  It would be redundant to go through them all here.  The reality detachment in some people's thinking is so appalling that it leaves one's mind reeling, reaching for another cup of coffee, and heading out to the garden to regain some connection back with the universe as we know it.

I'm going to have to re-read this article a third time later today.  Not for the enjoyment mind you, but so that I can maybe get a better understanding of the weirdness of it all, to be able to better recognize and avoid said weirdness.

I'll bet this wreck happened on Mulberry Street

From over at The Argyle Sweater:

Looking up Dr. Seuss on Wikipedia reveals that there's also a physicist out there named Theo Geisel.  Hmm, reality really is stranger than fiction.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

More on RadioShack's Ongoing Death Throes

Inside RadioShack's Slow-Motion Collapse (Bloomberg)

Five Mistakes that Doomed RadioShack (CBS News)

*sigh*   I hate to see them go, but it is time they get out of the way.

ps Wednesday: Dear RadioShack, this is Why We Adored You.  Over at WIRED.

Skirmish of the Three Ryes

As a follow-up to last year's Battle of the Four Ryes, we proudly bring the latest taste testing results:
Hint: notice which one is empty.  Uh-huh.

The Returning Champion, Knob Creek, was still very, very good.  Maybe a hint more of wood than most ryes, this one will please the Bourbon drinkers.  As an added plus, I've been finding it locally in the $32 range, considerably down from its former $50+.  Maybe it tracks oil prices; I dunno, ask a Saudi prince.

Riverboat Rye... it's good.  It is fairly light, might even have some kind of vanilla or floral notes, my nose can't quite distinguish these subtleties.  For all that, it's still a rough-and-tumble rye.  This is one for the Irish whisky drinkers, it's sort of Knappogue Castle's ruffian cousin.  I could drink this stuff all day long with nary a problem, at least until I fell overboard.

Which brings us to High West Double Rye.  This is, without question, the hands-down winner thus far for the die-hard neat rye drinker.  Last year working from memory I judged it "all about the spice, sort of a 'more of what you came here for' proposition."  Experimental confirmation has now been achieved to three standard deviations.  This is a rye whisky for people who enjoy Thai food and sharp knives.

Now to avenues for further research.  RI(1) ("rye one") has not been in the skirmishes yet.  It is refined, perhaps surpassing Knob Creek, maybe a tad less woody and with more clean spicy flavor if memory serves.  It still might yet beat out High West.  After that, it comes down to the question of how good a Sazarac these two make.

But if you're making whisky sours or any other standard mixed drinks, don't even bother with these.  Go back to the standby, go-to bottle: Old Overholt.  "Good enough to sip, cheap enough to mix."  If you're not a rye drinker, at a mere $14 it's a good one to keep on hand for guests.  Invite me over, I'll help with any excess of this stuff you might have on hand.

To be continued.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Apalachicola, Oysters, and The Bitter Southerner

The Bitter Southerner, a relatively new web magazine, was thrown across my field of notice over the weekend.  Of particular interest are the current lead article The Oysterman and a link to an article about Dad over at Southern Foodways.  Not much more to say here at the moment, you should probably go read those about now.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Krewe du Vieux and Krew Delusion Recap

Don't expect me to write too much this morning, get your recap over at NOLA.  They took pictures.

Krewe du Vieux was at its usual low-down theme this year with "Begs for Change" (yeah, me too on that wish), while Krewe Delusion was just batshit all over the place.  "Theme?  What theme?  You got your little walking krewe there, do your own theme."  As the Times-Picayune put it last year, "If du Vieux is expressionism, then Delusion is surrealism."

There, that all make sense?  No?  Good then, you got the point.